Business Leaders Who Are the Brand

15 Iconic Business Leaders Inseparable From Their Brand

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Business Leaders Who Are the Brand


Some corporate titans achieve a level of celebrity that overshadows their status as business leaders. Through insatiable ambition, relentless hard work, brilliant innovation, or sheer force of personality, a select few of the most visible CEOs are so iconic that they become the human embodiment of the brands they build.

Richard Branson
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Virgin Records. Virgin Galactic. Virgin Mobile. Virgin Airlines. These are just four of the nearly 300 companies controlled by Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Over the course of his life, Virgin's eccentric, adventurous, globetrotting billionaire founder has overseen as many as 500 companies.

Oprah Winfrey


There can only be one Oprah. The $3.1 billion media mogul is a brand all her own. Her revenue streams include O: The Oprah Magazine, the OWN television network, and the Oprah Book Club -- not to mention royalties from a little television show that made her the undisputed queen of daytime talk.

Calvin Klein


After launching his namesake fashion brand in the late 1960s, Calvin Klein soared to the top of the industry by muscling in on the crowded denim market in the '80s and instigating controversy with provocative ads in the 1990s that made the careers of models such as Kate Moss, Brooke Shields, and Mark Wahlberg. For nearly 50 years, his designs, his vision, his ambition, his talent, and his name have been inseparable from the brand.

Donald Trump
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Through sheer force of will -- and a multimillion-dollar loan from his real estate tycoon father -- Donald Trump built an empire that includes global real estate holdings, golf clubs, resorts, merchandise, and licensing rights that earned the entrepreneur a net worth estimated at $3.1 billion. The brand will be forever tied to bold and braggadocious Trump's latest conquest: the presidency of the United States.

Mark Zuckerberg


Before 2007, MySpace defined online socializing. The arrival of Facebook rendered it a relic and ushered in the modern era of social media, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, who brought the idea to life as a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard. Young, uber-rich, and hoodie-clad, Zuckerberg has gone on to define Silicon Valley tech culture.

Kim Kardashian


Social media sensation and reality superstar Kim Kardashian is the standard-bearer of the Kardashian clan, one of the most famous families in show business. Her brand reaches into everything from cosmetics and clothing to fragrance and fitness, all made possible by her star power, celebrity, charisma, and curves.

Warren Buffett
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The world has plenty of billionaire investors, but there's only one Oracle of Omaha -- Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett, widely considered the most successful investor in history, whose wisdom is anxiously awaited by shareholders via the firm's legendary annual letter.

Ralph Lauren


Ralph Lauren was self-taught, with no formal fashion training, when he founded the iconic Polo brand in the late 1960s. Although Lauren stepped down as head of the company in 2015, he remains its chief designer and brand ambassador.

Dr. Dre
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From the streets of Compton to Wall Street, hip-hop pioneer and living Horatio Alger story Dr. Dre got the single biggest check of any living musician when he sold his Beats company to Apple for $3 billion in 2014. It's still called Beats by Dre, because the groundbreaking West Coast rapper who evolved into one of the industry's biggest producers is the heart and soul of the brand.

Bill Gates
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Of all the 20th century tech giants who ushered in the age of personal computing, Bill Gates just might be history's most influential inventor and businessman. The richest man in the world, Gates stepped down from his role as Microsoft CEO in 2000 to launch the world's largest private charity. Now he's back as a tech adviser at the world-changing company he founded.

Jeff Bezos
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Born into a broken home led by a teen mother, Jeff Bezos grew up to become a trailblazing dot-com pioneer by founding the "everything store" -- Amazon -- by imagining an online bookstore, building it from nothing, and parlaying it into the world's most dominant online retailer.

Larry Ellison


Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO of Oracle in 2014, but retains leadership roles at the software company and as chairman of its board. The self-made, hyper-competitive man has amassed an estimated net worth of $60.1 billion since founding the company in 1977.

Sean Combs
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Sean "Diddy" Combs was the highest-earning celebrity of 2017, according to Forbes, pulling in $130 million in 12 months thanks in part to the $70 million earned by selling one-third of the Sean John sportswear brand. No matter how big a stake he sells, Sean John will always be all about the rapper-turned-mogul who launched the brand that changed urban fashion in 1998, when hip-hop was still emerging as a billion-dollar enterprise.

What Does the Likes of Elon Musk Buy?
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The cofounder of PayPal has bigger dreams than online and mobile payments: At Tesla he's building the electric cars everyone wants, and his SpaceX rocket company is doing the work that was once the domain of NASA. The youthful Musk is iconic enough that he's appeared as himself in everything from "The Simpsons" to "Iron Man 2" -- for which Robert Downey Jr. says he modeled his genius Tony Stark character after the real-life inventor.

Travis Kalanick
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As the rebellious leader of Uber, the taxi-disruptor that wants to be so much more, Travis Kalanick brought the company to a $70 billion valuation and apparent global domination through brashness and bluster. His Ayn Rand-inspired willingness to bend the law and speak bluntly backfired to such a degree that underdog Lyft now looks like the leader, and the face and voice of Uber was forced to resign as CEO in June of 2017.